The Connected Desktop – With Ubuntu Linux

With the recent release of VMWare ESXi 5.1 and the associated fully featured web client management (which we may cover in a later article), Linux in general is getting closer and closer to the ‘do anything’ desktop operating system we have all wanted it to be for some time. Maturity breeds integration and although we have always had any number of tools to manage our command line servers, our Windows desktops and Mac OSX or other Linux graphical environments separately, we were lacking in a tool that put all the pieces together and managed our connections for us. There are several tools that are attempting to integrate system management, today we are going to talk about one, the “Remmina Remote Desktop Client”.

First, we need to get it installed with all the plugins that we will need. Our goal here will be the ‘one stop’ management of all our systems, whether they be SSH, VNC or RDP for Windows, Linux and OSX. As of Ubuntu 10.10, Remmina is in the standard repositories, let’s get everything installed as so:
sudo apt-get install remmina remmina-common remmina-plugin-rdp remmina-plugin-vnc remmina-plugin-gnome remmina-plugin-nx remmina-plugin-telepathy remmina-plugin-xdmcp

Now, that’s a mouthful. Although we don’t specifically need the NX, telepathy or XDMCP plugin for our purposes today, that installation will give us all the connectivity options that Remmina fully supports. When you start it up for the first time from your menu, you should see something like this:

Connection Management At It’s Finest!

I Was Blind, But Now I Can See (Hear Too)!
One of my chief complaints with some of the other RDP clients available for managing Windows desktops from Linux is the poor remote audio support (rdesktop we are looking at you). Although you can generally ‘get’ sound to work, you won’t like what it sounds like. Remmina handles remote sound beautifully, clearly giving you the option of leaving your audio in place or ‘bringing’ it to your desktop, see the options screen below:

I Can Hear You Now!

The quality of the sound is more than acceptable and, as long as you have a decent home wired or wireless network, you can listen to music or even watch videos remotely with acceptable performance.

But What About Graphical *nix?
Since both Linux and Mac OSX support VNC (in fact, in OSX, their implementation of VNC is the preferred method of remote desktop access for OSX), I cannot state that this is only for OSX, but it works splendidly with both OSX and Linux. Since there are other methods we can use to manage our Linux Graphical Desktops (XDMCP, Remote X Session, etc), it applies equally well here. Setting up VNC is as simple as setting the IP/name and port – you can even use SSH tunneling to access it (which is the secure method):

All That and Secure Too

Additionally, you will notice that you can use this application to set up your current desktop so that someone can (or you) can connect to it over VNC without having to complete any real configuration or install a specific VNC server – remote support on demand!

My Own Connection Secretary
As with many of you, living in the world of IT, I have access to almost too many systems (Windows, Linux and OSX) to keep track of. Even intelligent naming conventions and updated DNS can leave me wondering both where something is as well as what it is called. With Remmina, I have all my servers at my fingertips. I am able to group them by type (functional, application, environment or connection type), add my own name/description and display the server name itself, sorted by any of those items at any time. See a quick sample:

Nice to Meet You Ms. Moneypenny

Final Thoughts
Although this is not the only connection manager that attempts to integrate the remote connectivity options that are available in Linux, I think it is the most complete and does the best job at it. Now that it is available in the standard repositories, I have not had the stability issues that plagued earlier versions (particularly RDP support). In fact, when Windows 8 launched to Consumer Preview some months ago, an RDP update was issued within 24 hours that allowed connectivity despite the undocumented protocol changes and password exchange. Hit me up in the comments below with what you use to manage the myriad of systems you are responsible for.


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